Ode to Walt Whitman
by Federico Garcia Lorca
Along the East River and in the Bronx
young men were singing, showing off their waists.
With the wheel, the oil, the leather and the hammer,
ninety thousand miners extracted the silver from rocks,
and little boys were drawing stairs and perspectives.
But not one would sleep,
not one wished to be a river,
not one loved the great leaves,
not one, the blue tongue of the beach.
Along the East River and on the Queensborough
young men wrestled with industry,
and Jews were selling the rose of circumcision
to the faun of the river,
and the sky emptied out onto bridges and roofs
herds of bison pushed along by the winds.
But no one would ever pause,
not one wished to be a cloud,
not one searched for the fern
or the yellow wheel of the tambour.
When the moon comes out,
the pulleys will turn to disturb the skies;
a boundary of needles will enclose the memory,
and coffins will carry away those who never work.
New York of muck,
New York of wire and of death:
What angel is carried hidden in your cheek?
What perfect voice will speak the truths of the wheat?
Who, that terrible dream of your stained windflowers?
Not for one single moment, beautiful old Walt Whitman,
have I ever ceased seeing your beard full of butterflies,
or your corduroy shoulders worn thin by the moonlight,
or your thighs of a virginal Apollo,
or your voice just like a column of ash;
aged one, as beautiful as the mists,
who wailed the same as a bird
with its sex pierced by a needle.
Enemy of the satyr.
Enemy of the vine,
and lover of bodies beneath coarse cloth.
Not for one single moment, my virile beauty,
for on mountains of coal, on signs and on railroads,
you dreamed of being a river and sleeping like a river
next to that comrade who placed in your breast
the tiny hurts of nescient leopards.
Not for one single moment, Adam-blooded one, All-Male,
man alone upon the seas, beautiful old Walt Whitman,
because on rooftop terraces,
huddled together in bars,
running out of the sewers in bunches,
trembling between the legs of chauffeurs
or flitting about on the platforms of absinthe,
the faggots, Walt Whitman, are pointing at you.
That one, too! Him, too! And hurling themselves
down upon your luminous and chaste beard
are blonds of the north. Negroes of the sands;
a multitude of shrieks and gestures,
just like cats and just like snakes,
are the faggots, Walt Whitman, the faggots,
blurry-eyed with tears, flesh for the whip,
or the boot or the bite of animal trainers.
That one, too! Him, too! Tinted fingers
are leveled at the shores of your dream
when that friend eats from your apple
with its slight taste of gasoline,
and sunlight sings upon the navels
of the boys playing beneath the bridges.
But you never sought out scratched eyes
or the darkest swamps where they submerge little boys,
or that frozen saliva,
or those wounded curves like toads' bellies
that faggots lug about in cars and on terraces
while the moonlight lashes them on the street corners of terror.
You only sought a nude who would be like a river.
A bull and a dream that would join wheel and seaweed,
a sire of your mortal agony, a camillia of your death,
and he would wail in the flames of your hidden Equator.
Because it's not right for a man to seek his delight
in those blood jungles of the morning after.
The skies have shores where one can avoid life,
and some bodies should never be repeated in the Dawn.
Agony, mortal agony, dream, ferment and dream.
That's the world, friend: agony, mortal agony.
The dead are decomposing beneath the clocks of the cities.
The war passes by us, weeping, with a million grey rats,
rich men give to their mistresses
tiny, illuminated half-corpses,
and Life is neither noble, nor good, nor sacred.
A man can, if he wishes, guide his desire
over a vein of coral or a celestial nude;
tomorrow loves will become rocks, and Time,
a breeze coming through the branches fast asleep.
That's why I never raise my voice, old Walt Whitman,
against the little boy who inscribes
a little girl's name deep into his pillow,
nor against the young man who dresses up as a bride
in the darkness of his clothes closet,
nor against those lonesome men of the casinos,
who drink with disgust from the waters of prostitution,
nor against those men with lecherous gazes,
who love men, but whose lips burn in silence.
But decidedly against you, faggots of the cities,
with your tumescent flesh and vile thoughts.
Mothers of filth. Harpies. Unsleeping enemies
of the Love that bestows crowns of joy.
from Ode to Walt Whitman & Other Poems
Federico Garcia Lorca
translated by Carlos Bauer
(New Directions 1988)